Edinburgh Research Explorer

Tara Spires-Jones

Personal Chair of Neurodegeneration

Profile photo
Phone: 01316511895

Willingness to take PhD students: Yes

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), University of Oxford
Genetic and epigenetic interactions in activity-dependent cortical plasticity. Accepted by the University of Oxford (Bodlean library) December 2003.
Master of Science, University of Oxford
Bachelor of Arts, The University of Texas at Austin
French (honors)
Bachelor of Science, The University of Texas at Austin
Biochemistry (honors)


Tara Spires-Jones runs a research group studying brain changes in ageing and neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease.  Her laboratory studies the synaptic connections between neurons, which in healthy brain allow learning and memory. The goal of the group is to understand the mechanisms of synapse degeneration in order to develop treatments that will promote recovery of brain function.  Dr Spires-Jones received her PhD from the University of Oxford and was an Assistant Professor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School before returning to the UK to join the University of Edinburgh in 2013. 

In addition to her research, Prof Spires-Jones is passionate about communicating scientific findings to the public and policy makers; increasing the rigour and reproducibility in translational neuroscience; promoting inclusivity and diversity in science; and supporting career development of neuroscientists.  She is a founding member of the FENS-Kavli Network of Excellence, which works to promote the future of European Neuroscience. She served as a member of the Scottish Science Advisory Council from 2016-2019 advising the Scottish Government on science policy, and in 2018 was elected as a term Member of the European Dana Alliance of the Brain promoting public engagement with neuroscience.

Academic history

◦  University of Edinburgh - Personal Chair of Neurodegeneration, Deputy Director Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences, UK Dementia Research Institute Programme Lead

◦  University of Edinburgh - Interim Director Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems 2016 - 2017

◦  University of Edinburgh - Chancellor’s Fellow and Reader 2013 - present

◦  Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital - Instructor (2006-2011); Assistant Professor (2011-2013)

◦  Postdoctoral training in imaging Alzheimer’s disease models with Prof Brad Hyman at MGH from (2004-2006)

◦  DPhil at the University of Oxford with Prof Colin Blakemore and Dr Anthony Hannan studying environmental influences on synapse development and degeneration (1999-2004)

◦  Winner of a Marshall Scholarship to study in the United Kingdom 1999

◦  Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Bachelor of Arts in French at the University of Texas at Austin (1994-1999)



Neuroscience Honours - Neurobiology of Cognition 4th year elective - Course Organiser

Neuroscience Honours - 21st Century Challenges lecture


MSc by Research in Integrative Neuroscience - Exam board member

PhD student supervision and thesis committee member


Current Research Interests

Prof Spires-Jones' research research focuses on the mechanisms and reversibility of neurodegeneration in Alzheimer’s disease, other degenerative brain diseases, and ageing.  Working with a vibrant group of researchers, she is trying to understand why synapses and neurons become dysfunctional and die in these diseases in order to develop effective therapeutic strategies. Her work has shown that soluble forms of the pathological proteins amyloid beta and tau contribute to synapse degeneration, and that lowering levels of these proteins can prevent and reverse phenotypes in model systems. Further, she has pioneered high-resolution imaging techniques in human post-mortem brain and found evidence that these proteins accumulate in synapses in human disease.  Tara Spires-Jones has published over 100 peer reviewed papers which have been cited over 10,000 times.



DPhil Neuroscience

University of Oxford


MSc Neuroscience

University of Oxford


BS (honors) Biochemistry

University of Texas at Austin


BA (honors) French

University of Texas at Austin




Research Interests

My research focuses on the mechanisms and reversibility of synaptic and neuronal degeneration in Alzheimer’s disease, other degenerative brain diseases, and ageing.  


My research in a nutshell

Memory is made possible by the ability of synapses, the connections between neurons in the brain, to change in response to environmental inputs.  In dementia, memory declines because synapses and neurons become dysfunctional and die.  In fact, loss of synapses is a strong predictor of dementia in Alzheimer patients. The goal of our research is to understand why synapses and neurons degenerate in order to develop effective strategies to treat the dementia and other brain diseases.

Research activities & awards

  1. Alzheimer's Research UK Policy Report Advisor

    Activity: Consultancy typesProviding oral or written evidence for non-academic board, committee, working group or advisory panel

  2. Scottish Science Advisory Council: Reaction to the UK Government Office for Science Foresight report “Future of an Ageing Population”

    Activity: Consultancy typesWork on advisory panel to industry or government or non-government organisation

  3. Science (Journal)

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesEditorial activity

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